The onus is on UM quarterback Devin Gardner to reduce his turnovers this season. (Steve Perez / Detroit News)
The Michigan football team begins its season Saturday with a home game against Appalachian State in a rematch of their 2007 stunner, when the Mountaineers gave the Wolverines their most embarrassing loss in school history.
There could be another Michigan stunner, but it won’t happen Saturday. Do not be surprised if starting quarterback Devin Gardner finishes the season on the bench — even if he remains healthy — if turnovers remain a problem.
Doing too much
Gardner can be a spectacular player. We saw that last season when he burned Indiana for 503 yards in the air, passed for 294 yards and ran for another 82 against Notre Dame and nearly led the team to an upset victory over Ohio State. However, Michigan still finished a disappointing 7-6.
The defense wasn’t very good and the team needs to shed its soft label. And Gardner must do his share by not turning the ball over. That is his Achilles heel, in part because he tries to do too much when there is no play to be made.
He threw 11 interceptions in the first eight games last season and had a couple lucky drops by defensive backs. But to his credit Gardner did not throw a pick in his final four games. The problem then was his running game dried up. He rushed for minus-37 yards as Michigan stumbled to a 1-4 regular-season finish. Part of that was trying to make impossible plays as he took needless sacks.
Coach Brady Hoke said it best when he said it is sometimes best to throw the ball out of bounds. I’ve seen Gardner try to do Michael Jordan-like moves out of the end zone. I applaud him for trying to be a playmaker because teams need that. However, sometimes it is best to cut your losses.
Gardner also has Shane Morris breathing down his neck. Offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier is in his first season at Michigan, coming here from Alabama. It appears as if Morris fits what Nussmeier wants to do better than Gardner. Hoke appears to be a guy who is loyal to seniors in close races. But if Gardner has butterfingers again, how long can Hoke stand by his man?
Hoke must win. Athletic director David Brandon keeps saying his job is not in jeopardy. However, I keep hearing what a great job Hoke is doing graduating players and not what a great job he is doing on the field. That could be a smoke screen to keep the “Fire Hoke” wolves at bay and let us believe all is peaceful in Schembechler Hall.
I would make a change to keep the peace in the dressing room if Gardner is unable to hang onto the ball.
He was brought here to run the Rich Rodriguez spread option, which is entirely different than what Michigan wants to do now. And he is an elbow injury away from being a wide receiver.
Michigan moved him to that spot, but an elbow injury to Denard Robinson forced coaches to move Gardner back because he was the only quarterback on the roster who could move the offense.
Gardner is the most electrifying quarterback on the roster. In a perfect world he would start from beginning to end.
That can still happen if Gardner does a better job of game managing.